Sexual Integrity in Catholic Teaching

Before describing quite how groups like Quest help lesbian and gay Catholics to live lives of sexual integrity, when need to consider the entire concept in Catholic teaching, an important element applicable to people of any orientation. This is spelled out clearly in the Catechism, that sexuality is an important part of our human make – up, which needs to be integrated into our personalities.

“Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” (2333)


“Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.

Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another” (2337)

But for lesbian and gay Catholics, is internally self – contradictory.  The Catechism extracts quoted above continue by stating that this integration of sexuality within our person can only take place within the context of complemetarity and heterosexual marriage.

Yet, the Vatican accepts that for people who have a natural same – sex orientation, heterosexual marriage is not recommended, and does not endorse any attempt at conversion therapy. So, for gay and lesbian people, we are told that like everyone else, we must acknowledge and accept our sexual identity, and integrate our sexuality into our human person. But we are simultaneously told that this can only be within heterosexual marriage – which is not recommended for us.

Vatican documents also state that it is important to take account of the findings of science (both natural and social sciences), and accepts the well – established findings of science that a same – sex affectional orientation is entirely natural, concluding therefore that the orientatiom in itslf is  not sinful. There is a widespread, and growing, recognition by many bishops, and statements from bishops’ conferences, that there is value in any loving and committed relationships, of any kind (same – sex or opposite sex), and notable acceptance by some leading cardinals and bishops even of legal recognition and protection for these relationships, in civil unions or partnerships (but not full marriage). But, says the institutional church, these relationships must be fully celibate, with no genital expression. This important qualification is in conflict with the Catechism’s own insistence that sexuality must be integrated into the human psyche, and with the findings of science that sexual expression in loving relationships confers distinct benefits to  both physical and mental health

This circle cannot easily be squared. To do so, lesbian and gay Catholics need mutual help and support, in prayerful reflection, sharing, worship and study. The Ignatian tradition of spirituality (the tradition with which I am personally most familiar), teaches that prayerful reflection on our life experience, day by day, week by week or year by year, taking note of the movements of consolation and desolation, is one way in which we can learn to pray not only by speaking to the Lord, but also to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking directly to our hearts. In the Jesuit – inspired CLC movement, the Christian Life Communities, small groups get together for weekly meetings, in which to engage in this formal discernment of the Holy Spirit working in their lives, by prayerful faith sharing, reflection and discussion,

Quite how Quest does this, will be published later today.


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Alison:Does “Objectively Disordered” Mean Anything At All?

In the CDF Hallowe’en Letter, possibly the most offensive and damaging element was the labelling of the homosexual orientation as “intrinsically disordered” – but just what does “disordered” in fact mean? Science has shown from mental health and from animal biology that it is entirely natural, and not in any scientific sense disordered. Defenders of the Vatican line respond to this criticism of the label by insisting that it does not mean what it appears to do in common speech. It has, they say, a specifically theological sense, which the critics are ignoring. My question then becomes, “Just what does ‘disordered’ mean, theologically?’ “

Beyond meaning simply that it is not ordered to procreation, which we can counter (and Bishop Robinson has done) by demonstrated that much else in human and animal sexuality is likewise not ordered to procreation, I have not yet worked out just what this supposed deep theological meaning might be. The Catholic theologian James Alison has now illuminated this for me. If I understand him correctly, I don’t understand the theological meaning of the term – because there is none, that makes any theological sense. The use of the term is itself  disordered.

In his long interview for Vox Nova, Brett Salkeld asked Alison about this term. The interviewer first described how he had once forced Lifestyle News to retract a claim, widely assumed but rejected by mental health professionals, that the term refers to a psychological disorder, and asked Alison for his own views on the “origins” of homosexuality. Instead, Alison responded by addressing the meaning (or rather, the absence of any meaning) in the term “disordered”. (more…)

Bishop Robinson: Catholic Assertions, Not Arguments

In his address to the New Ways Ministries’ conference  From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships,  Bishop Geoffrey Robinson devoted a major part of his address to demonstrating just why that teaching is unsound. Yesterday, I outlined the first of his three reasons for making such claim, that the argument from “God’s purpose in nature” is unsound.

Now, I move on to the second of his three arguments against the traditional teaching on sex :

The second reason for change is that the statements of the Church appear to be assertions rather than arguments


Bishop urges change in all church teaching on sexual relationships

Sooner or later, it had to happen. Ordinary Catholics living in the real world have known it for decades, moral theologians know it, priests in Austria, Germany, Belgium and Ireland have been demanding it, and an unknown number of bishops recognize it privately. Now, at least on bishop is saying it publicly: the officially authorized doctrine on human sexuality, in all its aspects, is fundamentally and intrinsically disordered, and has to change.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson will not be the last bishop to make this call – expect many more to follow. It will take time, but this will become the mainstream view. The only questions in my mind, are how long will it take, and how will they manage the admission.

At the Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, retired Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson called Friday for “a new study of everything to do with sexuality” — a kind of study that he predicted “would have a profound influence on church teaching concerning all sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual.”

“If [church] teaching on homosexual acts is ever to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must change,” he said.

Robinson, a priest since 1960 and auxiliary bishop of Sydney from 1984 until his retirement for health reasons in 2004, told the Baltimore symposium, sponsored by New Ways Ministry, that “because sex is so vital a way of expressing love, sex is always serious.”

That view, espoused by the church, stands in contrast to the general perception of modern society, which “appears to be saying more and more that sex is not in itself serious,” he said.

For the church to deal with sex seriously, however, does not in itself mean that the church must continue to accept uncritically its traditional understandings of sexual morality, he said.

-National Catholic Reporter.

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Bursting The Vatican Bubble

burst the bubble

Image by Isabel Bloedwater via Flickr

In a comment to my friend Terry’s post Bishops’ Double-Speak: Gay Ministry, Liturgy, a reader who goes by the name PrickliestPear (I just love the name) said the following:

I’m not sure that the majority of Catholics who disagree with the official teaching regarding sexual morality are insufficiently articulate, or loud.
Those in official positions of authority know that some people in the church are willing to stay even though they disagree, and they don’t become unhinged when official documents say something disagreeable. There is a minority, though, who are not like this. They don’t just get angry when official leadership does something they disagree with–their faith is shaken to the very core.

My thoughts and feelings precisely! As I am not quoting the comment in toto, I hope I’m not quoting out of context. Even if that were to be the case, I must admit that in the heart of this comment – the text I have just quoted – there is a very valid point being made. It may or may not be a consolation to a reader like Prickliest Pear, but I must confess that it’s not just lay Catholics who are becoming increasingly disaffected by what is spun by the Church hierarchy. As a priest still in active ministry I know from personal experience the anger, frustration, disgust and many negative reactions that are triggered by what I see and hear. It’s not simply a question of disagreement, or holding a dissenting opinion. The fact is that there are issues that can shake one’s faith to the very core. Yes, even the faith of a priest, despite the training, theological preparation and spiritual formation one receives. Or should I say, precisely because of all this. The way I see it, this need to be open and congruent (the result of the process of self-acceptance as a gay man, as well as of coming out to God and others) makes me all the more sensitive to the “double-speak” of those in high places in the Church hierarchy.

As often happens, certain persons (religious conservatives in all likelihood) make noises whenever a hint of dissent is in the air. They pile on the usual bullshit about loving the Church (often using the nauseating appellative “Holy Mother Church”), accusing those who disagree with the Church’s teaching (“Magisterium”, that’s more high-sounding) as not being loyal and loving towards to the Church, and retorting that those of us who dissent should show proper filial love to our Mother, the Church. Enough of this crap-talk! What these persons should consider is the following: there is a limit to how much one can tolerate the jesuitical twisting of arguments presented as Church teaching. If disregarding one’s conscience is the price one pays for swallowing whole whatever is fed to us, then that’s a recipe for disaster. (more…)

Marriage, Procreation, and “The Broad Book of Nature”.

At the British Catholic publication “The Tablet”, there is an important column by Clifford Longley, reflecting on Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ recent BBC radio interview, and in particular on some of his remarks about homosexuality. The full article is behind a paywall, so I am unable to supply a link. I would urge you though, if you can to try to arrange sight of the original. Bill Lindsey at Bilgrimage has already written at length about some of the implications of this. I want to pick up on some other aspects.

This is the only part of Longley’s column that quotes the Archbishop directly:

“When it comes to understanding what human sexuality is for, there is a lot that we have to explore.. Because I think what is at one level in the broad perspective clear, is that there is an intrinsic link between procreation and human sexuality. Now how do we start from that principle, not lose it, and have an open, ongoing conversation with those who say, well, that’s not my experience? How do we bring together some principles that if you like are written into the broad book of nature, and individual experiences? That’s the area that we have to be sensitive and open to, and genuinely wanting to explore.”


Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 4): “Homosexuality is fundamentally disordered”

In the fourth part of his long article on gay inclusion for the Irish theology magazine “Furrow”, Fr Owen O’Sullivan considers the part of the CDF presentation of the subject that most enrages gay and lesbian Catholics – that their orientation is fundamentally disordered. We know that this is simply not true, at least not in any conventional sense familiar from everyday speech. It is certainly not true in what appears to be the obvious, medical import: professionals in mental and physical health have agreed that same sex attraction is not disordered in any medical sense.

Not the only model


Condoms and the “Marital Act”.

I got home late last night to find the news sites ablaze with reports that Pope Benedict has conceded that there could be some justification for the use of condoms “in certain cases”. Most reports see this (very slight) shift as significant: the Daily Telegraph headline calls it “historic”. Others are less convinced, noting that the example he gives is very specific, that of a male (homosexual) prostitute, for whom contraception is clearly a non- starter in the first place.


Coming Soon: John McNeill & “Taking a Chance on God”, On Film, On-Line.

For some time, I have been reading reports of a documentary film on the life and ministry of the pioneer gay theologian, John McNeill, in production by Brendan Fay, one of the producers of “Saint of 9/11″, on the life and death at the World Trade Towers of Father Mychal Judge, the gay Franciscan chaplain to the NYC fire department,By way of a comment he has placed here today, I can now pass on the good news that a trailer for the film, which takes it title from one of John McNeill’s books, will shortly be available on-line:

Just wanted to inform all that in a few days a trailer to the documentary on my life and ministry will go on-line, at  “Taking a Chance on God”. ( The complete documentary will be premiered in December.

McNeill's Book of the Same Title


All Souls Reflection: On Burying Our Queer Dead

In Catholic tradition, the Feast of All Souls (Nov 2nd) is the day on which we remember the souls in Purgatory. Fresh from my mother’s funeral, this is a topic much on my mind. I find, however, my thoughts are not so much on those starting their new lives in Christ, as on those nearing the end of their present lives on earth. In particular, I am led to the difficult question: for those lesbian or gay Catholics who attempt to live fully within the guidelines of the CDF, who will bury our dead?

My mother’s attempt to live scrupulously according to Church teaching, and the Natural Family Planning it recommends and she in turn commended to her daughters, was witnessed by her seven children. Her reward was that even though I now live in the UK, and one of my sisters in Cape Town, and after the death earlier this year of one son, during her last months she still had living in close proximity four daughters, nine of her sixteen grandchildren, and two of six great-grandchildren, all of whom were with her on her final day. She clearly knew she was going, and was able to make peaceful goodbyes. We all contributed to the funeral planning, while the pall-bearers included myself, three sons-in-law, and two grandsons.

During my two bereavements this year, I have been greatly helped by the prayers and support of the congregation of the Soho LGBT Masses, and of my readers here at QTC. Similarly, the congregation has frequently lent its prayers and support to others in their own bereavements. I am increasingly aware though, that the day is approaching when we will be praying not for our departed relatives, but for our own deceased congregants. How will we respond? In some cases, those who live alone, will we even know they have passed away?

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith insists that it condemns all forms of unjust discrimination against persons of a homosexual disposition. However, it goes on to insist that the best way for us to avoid any discrimination is to remain firmly closeted, to avoid any self-disclosure of our sexual identity. In practice, this means that the Church frequently makes the assumption that where self-identified gay men or lesbians are living together as couples, their relationships are not celibate, and so in contravention of Church teaching. We are condemned by CDF doctrine to lives not only celibate, but also solitary. We are further denied Church approval as adoptive parents.

And so the question arises: if we do indeed order our lives as recommended in Homosexualitatis Problema – without loving spouses or children to survive us, who will bury our dead?

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